“No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.” The great Julia Child was famous for this line and the belief that anyone can learn to cook, and there’s definitely truth to that. To start off, here are solutions to some of the most common mistakes we make in our kitchens, so you can learn by doing too.
Problem: You don’t read the recipe through.
Result: You end up scrambling to gather things in the middle of the recipe, realize you’re missing something or mess something up.
Solution: This one is simple enough — read the entire recipe through before you start so you can get together your mise en place, the professional technique of having every ingredient ready before you start.
Problem: You don’t know your oven.
Result: Your food cooks either too quickly, too slowly or unevenly, resulting in a less-than-perfect dish.
Solution: First, put an oven-safe thermometer in your oven so you can check if 350°F really is 350 degrees. Then you can experiment with making things in different parts of your oven to find that sweet spot.
Problem: You don’t season your food as you go.
Result: Your food is bland.
Solution: Make sure you taste as you cook, adding salt, pepper and any other spices as needed. If the dish is still lacking when it’s done, consider adding some fresh lemon juice to brighten things up.
Problem: Your pan isn’t hot enough.
Result: Your food sticks, your veggies and meats don’t sear.
Solution: Let your pan heat up for a few minutes before adding anything. To check if it’s hot enough, sprinkle a few drops of water on it. If the droplets sizzle in the pan, it’s hot enough for a good sear.
Problem: You overcrowd the pan.
Result: You end up with soft and soggy food.
Solution: Food gets crispy and caramelized when there’s room for moisture to escape as steam. Make sure to put in less food than you think there’s room for, leaving space for each piece to breathe. It might be more time-consuming, but if you’re really in a pinch you can always use two pans.
Problem: You cooked your meat for too long or at too high a temperature.
Result: Your meat is tough.
Solution: Make sure you use the right cooking method for the right cut. Always use a meat thermometer to check doneness — meat might not look done until it’s too late, and a thermometer is a sure way to check.
Problem: You don’t let your meat rest after cooking.
Result: The juices run out of the meat as soon as you cut it, leaving your meat dry and flavorless.
Solution: Let your meat rest for at least 5 minutes for a small cut and up to 30 for a whole bird. Additionally, tent the meat loosely with foil to keep it warm without overcooking it.
Problem: Your breaded crust won’t stay on your meat.
Result: Chicken, with a side of crusty crumbs.
Solution: Follow this simple three step method: coat the meat in flour, then beaten eggs, then bread crumbs. When it’s time to cook, make sure your pan is nice and hot before adding the coated meat.
Problem: You cooked your pasta in a small pot with water that wasn’t hot enough.
Result: Gummy pasta.
Solution: Use a bigger pot than you think you need and use at least four quarts of water at a rolling boil for each pound of pasta you’remaking. This gives the pasta room to move around and cook evenly, and keeps it from sticking.